HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, July 13, Reuter: The ship that is suspected of landing 174 would-be refugees in Canada has been seized by the coast guard and all those it carried are Sikhs from India, Immigration officials said today.

They said there were rumours, but no proof, that another ship carrying Indian nationals was somewhere off the coast.

Immigration Minister Benoit Bouchard said in Ottawa the ship seized was believed registered in Costa Rica and was being escorted to Halifax. Officials said the ship was the Amelie, not the Amelia as the government first reported.

Bouchard said the Costa Rican government provided help in finding the vessel, which was seized without incident late last night 140 nautical miles southwest of Sable Island after an intensive search in fogbound waters.

The ship’s captain, Rolf Nygren of Sweden, and Jasvir Singh of Coventry, England, were charged in court today with illegally bringing people to Canada, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a $5,000 (Canadian) fine.

The 174 people all men except for one woman have told immigration officials they are Indian and left that country on May 20. They were expected to seek refugee status.

Bill Marks, a regional director for the Immigration Department, told a news conference in Halifax today: “As time goes on, everything we have right now is leading to them being citizens of India”.

Marks said they were being questioned in Punjabi by interpreters.

Those who do not have the proper documents for immigration to Canada will be referred to an inquiry where they can apply for refugee status. Applicants are allowed to work here while they await a decision.

Canada, which recently tightened its immigration laws in the face of broad public support for stricter rules, considers anyone who cannot return to his homeland because he has a justifiable fear of persecution to be a refugee.

Most of them appear to be between the ages of 20 to 30. Though Immigration authorities were not allowing the press or the general public to talk to them, still CBC representatives were able to contact a couple of them through Shiv Singh Datt, Ex-President of Indo Canadian Association. Appearing on the T.V. Mr. Datt said that the one he talked to indicated that they “were running away from danger”.

It is learnt that they raised Khalistan “Zindabad” (Long Live Khalistan) slogans after landing. Some of them were wearing badges of International Sikh Youth Federation on international extension of the All India Sikh Students Federation an Punjab which is engaged in the fierce political struggle to save the distinct identity of the Sikh religion. Since police and paramilitary troops have unleashed a reign of unprecedented state terrorism in Punjab and are hunting for the Sikh youths like hungry beasts, Sikh boys are escaping into foreign comities to save their lives. In an interview with CBG, the BBC correspondent in India, Mr. Mark Tully said that police were indiscriminately arresting and harassing Sikh young men in India. Each Sikh youth lives in a perpetual “fear for his life”.

Sikhs in Canada have offered to extend every possible support to the landed group. Appearing on T.V., Mr. Narinder Singh, and President Maritime Sikh Society said “We will support them in every way till settlement of their immigration cases”.

  1. Gian Singh Sandhu, President W.S.O. urged the Canadian authorities to give them refugee status. He also clarified his statement on CBC and said that he was quoted out of context and to set the record straight he again appeared on the CBE and offered all help including finding jobs for the landed Sikhs. He had a breakfast meeting with the Premier who reportedly promised that the group will not be deported.

Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Brian Mulroney said that “They would be treated fairly”.

But surprisingly, Canadian Hindus demanded their immediate deportation. Mr. R.P. Gupta former President of Indo Canadian Association and an influential Hindu leader were reportedly active for their deportation.

The Canadian government began investigating rumours last week that a boatload of Tamils was headed for Canada. Last year a group of 155 Tamil refugees arrived in lifeboats off the Newfoundland coast from a ship chartered in Europe.

Officials said today they had ‘no indication there was another boatload of women and children heading for the Canadian coast, but they said they were not discounting the possibility.

“We have no evidence whatsoever there is another vessel out their but we are trying to have a look out there in the normal course of our duties”, Immigration Department spokesman Wayne Piercy said.

Marks said one of the new arrivals is reported to have asked a villager in Charles Ville, a fishing community where the group came ashore, if he knew where the rest of his family was.

He said the refugees, when questioned by Immigration officials, denied there was another boat carrying women and children headed for Nova Scotia.

“It seems rather strange that this number of people would arrive with no dependents I think there is another ship”, Colonel Ira Creel man, of the Canadian Defense Department, told reporters.

Article extracted from this publication >>  July 17, 1987